NOVEMBER–DECEMBER 2014 INTERACTIONS 71 INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG
DOI: 10.1145/2668969 COPYRIGHT HELD B Y AUTHORS. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00
vision, and objectives rather than
relying on vague intentions or received
wisdom about what constitutes good.
Anti-oppressive design workplaces
can be constructed through careful
and continual reflection, requests for
outside help, and the implementation
of genuine democracy. These measures
are especially needed in the tech
industry, where stark gender and race
The worker cooperative is an
excellent model for implementing
these ideas. Employee ownership and
workplace democracy go hand in hand,
and stepping outside the traditional
corporate model also makes way for
innovative anti-oppressive business
models. The worker co-op is an
increasingly popular choice for both
new and existing social enterprises,
especially in the tech industry.
A new movement of anti-oppressive
tech is growing.
2. Burke, B, and Harrison, P. Anti-oppressive
practice. In Barrett, Sheila, et al., eds.
Communication, Relationships and Care: A
Reader. Routledge, 2004, 227–236.
4. The phrase “of any one gender” is worded
so as not to presume a gender binary.
5. Unfortunately it will also likely limit
the rate of our growth due to the
aforementioned shortage. We have
consciously chosen to place diversity and
growth, as values, on equal footing.
6. Non-violence here refers to more than
just the physical. Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication has been deeply
influential for us.
7. A helpful commentary on this issue can
be found at http://wearemammoth.
Thomas Smyth is a worker-owner at
Sassafras Tech Collective, a worker-owned
cooperative focused on building technologies
for social change. He holds a Ph.D. in computer
science from Georgia Tech and lives in a co-housing community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Jill Dimond is a worker-owner at Sassafras
Tech Collective. She holds a Ph.D. in human-centered computing from Georgia Tech. She
has worked for Google and as an interaction
designer. Her work has appeared in the New
York Times, NPR, BBC, and the Washington Post,
familiar consumer and agricultural co-ops in that all patrons own a share of the
business, except that the patrons are the
workers themselves as opposed to the
consumers or producers.
This arrangement makes for a flat
ownership structure, in which each
employee of the business (except trial
members) owns exactly one share,
an obvious prerequisite for genuine
democracy. But note that democracy
does not imply majority rule. Many
worker co-ops have chosen decision
by consensus as a more just standard.
Consensus can be difficult to achieve on
some issues, but it eliminates the threat
that a decision unfavorable to a minority
is made despite their objections.
The worker co-op is an old
organizational form that is enjoying
a resurgence in the U. S. (especially
in tech; see Figure 2) and has been a
long-term fixture in other areas. The
Mondragon Corporation of Spain’s
Basque region is the world’s largest
federation of worker co-ops, employing
some 80,000 people. Worker co-ops
tend to create long-term, stable jobs
and a concern for community benefit.
Many espouse a “multiple bottom line,”
wherein the business’s objectives are not
limited to financial returns and include
other values such as environmental
sustainability, community impact, and
worker happiness. This philosophy
implies a dedication to worker-friendly
policies such as full benefits for all
employees and liberal paid time off,
including maternity leave.
Reasonable work hours are also an
important measure, especially in the
tech industry, where long workweeks
are common and sometimes even worn
as a badge of honor. The expectation of
employees to work long hours is not only
unsustainable and inhumane [ 7] but also
embeds several oppressions. Parents,
especially mothers, are often unable to
work long hours due to responsibilities
to their children. Single and/or
working-class mothers are especially
vulnerable here—a policy of long
work hours, even if only during certain
“critical periods,” virtually guarantees
their exclusion. Ableism and ageism also
come into play—some people may not
be physically capable of performing 10-
or 12-hour days.
SHARING THE WEALTH
One challenge in working on
anti-oppressive projects is that such
projects are frequently underfunded.
To us, this is a manifestation of
classist/capitalist oppression and a
product of the vast wealth disparities
in the U.S. and elsewhere. It is no
coincidence that endeavors aimed at
building equality and counteracting
oppression and privilege struggle to
gain access to capital. Such is the self-reinforcing nature of our predominant
economic and social systems.
This fact suggests several measures
for an anti-oppressive business model.
First is a commitment to leanness,
since the lower costs are kept, the lower
and more accessible rates can be. The
somewhat lavish features expected of a
modern tech workplace (catered lunches,
high-value real estate, expensive swag,
and the like) are at odds with this.
We suggest that these features, which
seem designed to attract employees
in a highly competitive labor market,
would actually prove less attractive
than a genuine ownership stake,
democratic role, and social purpose if
given the chance.
Second is a willingness to adjust
rates on a sliding scale whereby clients
pay what they are able to afford.
This policy combined with leanness
measures can allow better-funded
clients to subsidize less well-funded
ones, with neither paying more than
fair market value. The scope of work
can also be creatively adjusted so that
a viable, high-quality artifact can be
delivered on a limited budget.
A NASCENT MOVEMENT
To return to the article’s title, we have
hopefully conveyed that what we call
“anti-oppressive design” is concerned
with not only the theory and method
of design itself but also the domain and
environment in which design is carried
out. It is an evolving collection of tools
The anti-oppression framework
and related notions of privilege and
social justice provide a structure
judging a design project’s “goodness.”
Practitioners and researchers alike
can use the framework to pose incisive
questions about a project’s background,